Plans by the Home Office to tackle soaring knife crime with a campaign on takeaway fried chicken boxes have been criticised as “ignorant” and "offensive."
Over 321,000 chicken boxes across 210 outlets including Morley's, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken in England and Wales will carry the Home Office #Knifefree design.
The inside of the boxes carries stories of people who have escaped from knife crime.
However, critics say the campaign relies on stereotypes about chicken shops — often frequented by black and ethnic minority youths — and one BBC broadcaster suggested it was driven by "racism."
Home Office minister Kit Malthouse said: "These chicken boxes will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer."
He added: "The government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatising communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police’s ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets."
Morley’s managing director Shan Selvendran said the company was "proud" to support the campaign. "We have been saddened by the recent increase in knife crime. We want to promote being knife free by using custom chicken boxes to deliver the message and start conversations amongst all of our customers," he said.
The Home Office has not said where it will be distributing the chicken boxes, but a map of Morley's, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken franchises shows they are concentrated in cities.
What are critics saying?
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted that the Home Office has "opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign."
She added: "They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them.”
Labour MP David Lammy wrote: “Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What’s next, #knifefree watermelons?”
BBC broadcaster Yasmin Evans questioned why the Home Office had drawn a correlation between knife crime and fried chicken. "Please someone break it down to me and me I’m wrong for seeing Racism? In fact, no. Tell me I’m RIGHT for seeing it."
Elijah Quashie, the teenager who became famous for his 'Pengest Munch' chicken shop reviews on YouTube, said the campaign was "based on stereotypical ignorant assumptions."
He added: "Someone prepared to use a knife to potentially kill someone will not be swayed by a chicken box. Besides that, chicken shops aren't the secret lair of people with knives.
"I think their efforts are better placed in providing more opportunities for youths in lower-income areas. They should to try resolve the problem and stop treating the symptoms poorly."
Writer and poet JJ Bola tweeted:
British rapper Big Narstie drew a more succint conclusion, saying the campaign was "fu***d."
Why did the Home Office choose chicken shops?
According to the Home Office, the boxes are being introduced nationwide after their "successful" partnership with Morley's earlier this year, where 20,000 chicken boxes were distributed across 15 branches.
They say the campaign is focused on reducing knife crime by altering the attitudes of young people from the ages of 10-21, through the encouragement of the positive activities exemplified inside the boxes.
Their reasoning for choosing chicken shops, they say is because "research by ACMS showed that 67% of customers are aged between 16-24 so this would allow us effectively reach young people as part of our wider #knifefree campaign."
So, is the campaign targeting the right demographic?
- In London, young people, in general, tend to be majorly responsible for, and the victims of, knife crime. Since 2014 the 'vulnerable population' — meaning children in care, children excluded from school and homelessness - has also increased.
- The crimes do tend to happen more often in large cities, such as London where, for every 100,000 people, 169 were linked with knife crime.
- Across England and Wales, police forces have registered a growth in serious violence, not just major cities like London and Manchester.
- In 2019, 1 in 5 people cautioned or convicted for carrying a knife were under the age of 18. Meaning that the majority were adults, not young people.
Where did the fried chicken stereotype come from?
The racial stereotype originates in the United States, with arguably the first public use in the 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation" by D. W. Griffith.
The film is part fiction and part history, discussing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. However epic the film is considered in terms of cinematography, it is arguably unparalleled in its controversial decisions in depicting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as heroes and black men (whom many were portrayed by white actors with blackface) as ignorant and sexually aggressive towards white women.
In this scene, you can see black lawmakers drinking, bare-footed and eating fried chicken.
In 2011, a fried chicken restaurant in China used a caricature of former U.S. President Barack Obama in its marketing.